I stomp my boots hard on the ground, just like my club leader Saralynn taught me. As I finish the final move, I spin in my dance partner and yell a loud grito, louder than I ever have before. I walk off the stage, chest puffed up, filled with pride, sweat dripping down my face. I take off my sombrero, sash and sarape.
Through the Ballet Folklorico De Colores 4‑H club, 4‑H has given me the greatest gift in the world: Being able to truly know my own culture.
My journey in 4‑H first started at the 4‑H Summer Day Camps in Wayne County, North Carolina. Learning about sewing, sea animals, and STEM during the summer was what 4‑H meant to me seven years ago. In 2014, I joined the newly formed Ballet Folklorico De Colores 4‑H Club simply because I wanted to wear the bright, colorful attire. As a fifth-grader in a school where I was the only Latino in my class, it was difficult to find myself and appreciate the culture I was a part of. De Colores brought that to me through dance. For many of the kids in De Colores 4‑H, it has provided a sense of not just community, but family. Many of our club members, including myself, have family thousands of miles away that we do not get to see often. De Colores brings us together and creates unbreakable bonds because together, we are learning about our own culture and seeing the true beauty of our forever home away from home every Friday night.
Wayne County is a tight-knit community. Everyone knows everyone, but not everybody knows everyone’s culture. I think back to one of our early performances at Herman Park, where the crowd was cheering, but not like they do now. The big dresses, large mariachi sombreros, and the elegant white-laced tops were unknown and new to our community. Our club has expanded my community’s views on Mexican and Latino culture. They have seen dances and clothing that many Americans will not see and have had the opportunity to have a widened view of their Latino brothers and sisters.
In 2019, De Colores 4‑H had the chance to star in Lauren V. Allen’s VSCO Voices Film, “GRITO,” highlighting Latino Youth and the Ballet Folklorico De Colores 4‑H Club in Wayne County. Through this project, we showcased to Wayne County the beauty, struggle and perseverance of the Latino 4‑H youth and how we showed and spoke about our culture with a true cathartic yell of honor. Many Latino families stay hidden, trying to draw the least amount of attention possible. Their weekly routine mainly consists of work, home and church. De Colores did the exact opposite. The Mexican culture is loud, vibrant and colorful. So were the dances we were performing all over Eastern North Carolina. For many of our families, this was an outlet to appreciate and remember back to their days in Mexico.
Not only are we changing our community’s perspective of our culture through dance, but through community service as well. Our De Colores members participate in 4‑H presentations, 4‑H competitions, and aid in community service. Dancing is a great gateway to public speaking and becoming a leader because if you can dance in front of a crowd of 200 plus people, you can speak. Our parents aren’t left out from community service. They meet every Friday as part of the Caminando Juntos Extension and Community Association Club. They help build, sew and fix our costumes and hairpieces, and participate in County-wide volunteer efforts, such as our local Fair, service projects, and much more.
I am currently the North Carolina 4‑H State Council President and proud to say the first Latino to hold that office. My position has provided me with the platform to make the grito of every Latino louder than ever in 4‑H. This Hispanic Heritage Month, and every month, I have the opportunity to do more for the Latino community, not just in North Carolina but the United States. Because in 4‑H, we believe in Opportunity for All and making our country’s best better every single day.